Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Revolution Definition:

Rebellion, often by organized military action, but always with the support of a significant proportion of the population, aimed at the replacement of an existing government.

Related Terms: Coup d'etat, Civil War, War

The 1969 Ballentine's Law Dictionary defines a revolution as follows:

"A sudden, radical and fundamental change in the government or political system, usually effected with violence or at least some acts of violence, sometimes after prolonged struggle between armed forces, and prompted ordinarily by internal conditions oppressive to the people. The overthrow of an established government, generally accompanied by far-reaching social changes."

In State v Diamond, Justice Parker of the Supreme Court of New Mexico noted these definitions:

"... a radical change of modification of the government; the overthrow of an established political system ... generally accompanied by far reaching social changes."

A revolution is often known as a successful rebellion.

As such, until it is successful, many international jurists maintain that a rebellion is a revolution in the making, in progress; and is not a revolution until and unless successful in the overthrow of the government the rebellion is aimed at.

Luttwak defines a revolution as follows:

"... action conducted, initially at any rate, by uncoordinated popular masses, and it aims at changing the social and political structures, as well as the actual personalities in the leadership." 


  • Anderson, W., Ed., Ballentine's Law Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (Rochester, NY: Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company, 1969).
  • Luttwak, E., Coup D'état: A Practical Handbook (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979, page 24
  • State v Diamond, 202 P. 988 (1921)

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